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Washington Township considering increase to sewer-tapping fees

September 07, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Called a "Catch-22" Tuesday, the Washington Township (Pa.) Municipal Authority members said they need more revenue from fees assessed on new development, but developers said the fees make it cost-prohibitive for them to build houses.

The WTMA is considering doubling its sewer-tapping fees. The fees are charged to residential, commercial and industrial users connecting to the water system for the first time, or if they expand their operations or property in a way that requires more sewer capabilities.

The sewer-tapping fees are $2,626 per equivalent dwelling unit, which is essentially one home. They would have increased to $5,252 if the WTMA had approved a resolution as planned Tuesday.

However, developers Ronnie Martin and R. Lee Royer told the authority board and manager that raising the fees in the down economy is unreasonable.

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"At this point, everyone is fighting just to break even. ... Help us get through these recessionary times," Martin said.

The fees, which were evaluated in 2003 or 2004, are a way for property owners or developers to pay for a share of the existing infrastructure, WTMA Manager Sean McFarland said.

"It's an individual share of what the WTMA has spent to provide sewer in the township," he said.

Martin said he wouldn't mind paying a higher fee if homes were selling like they did five or six years ago. But, he said, only five houses have sold for him this year in Farmspring Estates.

"I can't pay what I don't have. ... Basically I'm selling houses at what it costs to build them, so I can hope to get the land costs back," he said.

Martin said he wanted to reach a compromise with the WTMA, and he suggested phasing in the increase over a few years. Some board members said they would be OK with doing that, so their vote was delayed until next week.

"I think we probably should have had a lesser increase some time ago," WTMA board member David McCarney said, adding that he considers the 100 percent hike now to actually be the smaller increases deferred.

WTMA officials said the fees were evaluated over a four-month period early this year during a larger, system-wide review required by Pennsylvania Act 537.

Legislation prevents any authority from collecting a revenue windfall from increased tapping fees, McFarland said. The water-tapping fees, which are $4,076 per equivalent dwelling unit, are not expected to change, he said.

Fred Eisenhart, chairman of the authority board, said he understood the developers' point that higher fees could further slow growth.

"We have the same problem you have as builders. If you're not building, we're not collecting," he said.

Most developers have withdrawn from or stalled projects, which include about 1,000 planned lots in Washington Township, Martin said.

"You're looking at what's left," he said, waving a hand between himself and Royer. "The rest are gone."

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